The next morning Hermione sat silently eating her breakfast with a book propped between her fingers. Turning the page, she sensed a slight commotion stirring through the students at the Gryffindor table but paid no attention until someone shouted, "Look out!"
She looked up just in time to see something zooming directly towards her face. Instantly, everything went black.
"Looks like she's coming out of it…"
"How can you tell?"
"I swear I saw her eyelashes flutter…"
Hermione raised her arm and massaged her forehead, feeling a large bump directly over her left eyebrow. Slowly, she opened her eyes. The lights stung as she squinted at the people standing around her bed. The whole troupe was there; Neville, Ron, Ginny, Luna and off in the corner a stood a brooding Harry. He looked up at her and she quickly moved her eyes away.
"What happened?" she asked the others. They all began fidgeting nervously when Ginny hopped forward, thrusting what looked like a paper airplane into Hermione's hand, "This hit you," she said, grinning wickedly. Neville looked away and Ron began rubbing the back of his neck in a twitchy manor. Luna simply nodded furiously, smiling in a vacant sort of way.
Examining the object in her hand she asked, "How could this knock me out?"
"Well, we think it was charmed," Ginny offered, "there's a not inside too….er, not that we read it or anything."
Just then, Madame Pomfrey entered and shooed them all out. Hermione sat alone, staring at the note in her hands. Slowly, she began turning it over and over, examining its oddly heavy weight and delicate construction. Then she began to unfold it and her eyes were greeted with carefully scripted writing –
I have been thinking about you so much lately. My mind is consumed with thoughts of you. I can't concentrate in class when you are there distracting me, haunting me. But somehow, I can't seem to find the courage to tell you how I feel. Until the day when I am strong enough to hold you in my arms and tell you how much you mean to me, please be satisfied with the knowledge that somebody cares about you.
Hermione's heart leapt within her chest and just as rapidly descended into her stomach. As wonderful as the note had made her feel, she knew it couldn't possibly be from the boy she needed it to be from. Folding it back up as neatly as it had been, she placed it on the table beside her bed and lay her head back down on the fluffy, white pillow. Sighing, she drifted off to sleep to the warm dreams awaiting her…
The next day was a Monday and Hermione went through the motions of going to classes in a lethargic, dreamlike state. Thanks to some help from Ginny, she had managed to tame her hair in a manor that would hide the welt on her forehead. She still had a hard time fathoming how something like a charmed paper airplane could leave a bump the size of Scotland on her forehead.
It was such a sunny and beautiful day outside, but Hermione could not force herself to be happy. Making her way to Arithmancy, she felt a sudden urge to run away. She stopped abruptly in her tracks, spun around, and headed toward the castle's exit. Skiving classes wasn't her normal repertoire, but as she opened the front doors and greeted the waning smell of summer, she couldn't help but feel liberated. Throwing her books onto the huge stone steps, she raced toward the shore of the lake. When she reached the lapping waters, she slowed and began a leisurely walk around the lake's perimeter.
"There you are!"
Hermione jumped from her place on the soft grass and turned to see Harry emerging from the surrounding bushes.
"Harry! You startled me!" Watching him walk toward her she noticed his arms were filled with her discarded books.
"I found these and began assuming the worst," he grinned, "it's not every day Hermione Granger leaves a book unattended, you know, let alone a whole stack!"
"Thanks," she stammered, watching him place the books tenderly on the grass.
"So," he said, seating himself beside her feet, "out for a stroll?"
Defeated, she resumed her spot on the grass, this time beside Harry. "I just needed to think I guess."
"Not a particularly unusual pastime for Miss Granger," he quipped.
Frowning, she brought her knees to her chest and encircled her arms around them. "The truth?" she asked.
"I've been thinking about that…letter."
"Oh," he said apprehensively.
"You don't think it was from Ron, do you?"
"Why would you think that?"
"Well, you remember how he acted fourth year…I just thought…well, I don't know."
"Do you want it to be from Ron?"
"Well…I, hang on…I guess that means everybody did read it," she said in a despaired tone.
"Well, not everyone." He was quiet for a minute and then continued his line of questioning, "You didn't answer, do you want it to be from Ron?"
"No," she spoke softly.
"Most people think you two would be a good match."
"Most people? And why do they think that?" she asked, puzzled.
"Well you know…you and Ron both….I mean, you're both…you both like to…well, I guess you don't have much in common do you," he chuckled.
Looking out at the lake, she shook her head, "Ron's a great guy, really he is. And he'll make some witch very happy someday. But I'm not that witch. I don't want to sound like a know-it-all snob or anything, but Ron and I aren't exactly the same caliber. It would be hard for me to be with someone who had such…low standards for themselves. Does that make sense?"
"Of course, you want someone who has priorities," he nodded.
"Not just that…just somebody motivated I guess. Somebody…well, someone who's not Ron."
They were both quiet again, then Hermione spoke, "This is silly, really. Why are we even talking about this?"
"Why not? We're friends aren't we?"
Hermione looked away painfully and nodded. "Hey," Harry said softly, "look at me." She turned her head to face him. He reached a hand up and pushed her curls away from her face, exposing the rosy knot on her forehead, "Aren't we?"
"Of course we are."
"Look, we're even beginning to look alike," he smiled, lifting his own bangs to reveal the scar hidden behind them. Hermione giggled and tried to suppress the huge smile forming on her lips. "Aha, there it is!" Harry exclaimed, beaming at her. "That smile, I swear, sometimes I wonder if it's not a bit of magic itself!" Hermione felt a blush rising to her cheeks and turned away, unable to stop smiling.
"If I didn't know better Mr. Potter, I might assume you're using a Cheering Charm on me!"
"Me? Nonsense! Come, M'lady, let's walk," he said, standing and stretching an arm towards her. She gripped it and hoisted herself from the ground. With a flick of Harry's wand, Hermione's books disappeared. No doubt, with his skills in magic increasing daily, they were now safely tucked away in her personal book shelf - most likely alphabetized as well.
They spent the afternoon circling the lake and Hermione was reminded of their fourth year when they had done the same thing, sharing bits of toast along the way. At one point, Hermione stumbled slightly over a rock and Harry reached and grabbed her hand to prevent her from falling. After regaining her composer, Harry's hand remained clasped around hers. She felt a herd of Hippogriffs stumbling around in her stomach as she and Harry made their way back to the castle hand in hand.
That night, when she arrived back to her dorm, she found a note sitting on her bed. Hastily, she picked it up and ripped it from its envelope –
I'll be waiting for you in the Astronomy Tower tonight at midnight. Please come.
Staring blankly at the parchment, she wondered what to do. She glanced at the clock beside her bed: 11:30. Should she go? Should she stay? Grabbing her cloak from the back of a chair, she hurried out of the room and down the stairs toward the Common Room. As she crept down the stairs, she heaved a sigh of relief when no voices could be heard from below. Stepping down into the darkened room she saw a silent figure sitting on the couch before the huge fireplace. Walking closer, she recognized the eerie glimmer of spectacles dancing in the firelight.
"Hermione? Where are you going at this hour?"
"I – uh – was just about to make some late rounds, you know…Prefect business."
"Oh, right, yeah. Sorry."
"I'll see you later then Harry," she whispered. As much as she wanted to stay here with him, she also wanted to know who the letters were coming from. She wanted to get to the bottom of things. Plus, wasn't it much more interesting to spend an evening with someone who was actually interested?
What makes you think I'm not interested? A voice echoed in her mind. Stopping, she turned around to look at Harry, "Did you say something?"
"No," his voice was quiet. She couldn't see his face quite clearly, but she was sure she knew the look on it. She had seen a similar look several times this year. It was inevitable, she supposed, considering he'd just lost his Godfather. An inner struggle ensued within Hermione. Harry had spent the afternoon lifting her spirits just like any good friend would. Was she going to let him suffer without her help in his time of need?
Sighing, she knew the answer already; no, of course not. Tossing her cloak over a chair in the corner, she threw herself onto the couch next to Harry. "What's wrong?"
"What do you mean?" He asked, trying to look genuinely surprised, but failing.
"Didn't you have somewhere to go?"
"That can wait."
"You're not keeping somebody waiting are you?" A hot blush rose to Hermione's cheeks, she was glad the room was dark. Could he know?
"Of course not. Who would be waiting for me?"
"I don't know…maybe someone who loves you."
Arching her eyebrows she looked at him in disbelief, "Harry, what on earth are you on about?"
"You got another letter, didn't you," he stated – with no hint of question in his voice.
"What if I did?" She paused and watched him as he stared blankly into the fire. "Harry, you know who it is, don't you!"
"Of course I know."
"How could you keep it from me like this?"
"It doesn't matter. He loves you."
"Loves me? How could he possibly love me if I don't even know who he is?"
"But you do," he said, turning to look into her eyes.
"Maybe you should just go find out for yourself."
"Is this what's bothering you? This whole secret admirer thing?"
"If I asked you not to go and stay here with me, would you?" Hermione bit her lip to keep it from trembling. Had Harry really just asked her…? Had he asked…? Asked her to…? Stay?
"Why…are you asking?"
"Then I'll stay." She scooted closer to him, her hips touching his, and rested her head on his shoulder. "What are friends for?" After several quiet moments of watching the flames dance in the fireplace, Harry spoke, "Hermione?"
"What is it, Harry?"
I don't….Hermione, I don't want to be your friend…"
"What?" She asked, sitting up hastily.
"I mean…I…I do want to be your friend. It's just…"
"Just what?" She asked, genuinely puzzled and feeling slightly hostile.
"I want to be more, too." There was a breathless pause before Hermione felt Harry's lips pressed softly against her own. She felt her body stiffen and then, as she felt his hand wander to her waist, relax. Gently, he pulled away from her and looked her in the eye. His own emerald eyes looked on the verge of eruption. With tears? Hermione couldn't tell.
She let her eyes drop from his and lowered her head to stare into her lap. With a small gasp, she brought her fingertips up to touch her lips where Harry's had been. Her lips…they didn't feel different, but she knew something had changed…
She suddenly had no idea what to do with any of her appendages. Everything about her body seemed awkward all at once and she felt as though she were made of rubber or that if she moved there was a chance she might end up falling face forward onto the carpet. She had never felt so uncomfortable in her own skin. Then, she felt Harry's hand clasp her wrist in his hand. She looked up and saw him staring intently at her. All random thoughts of clumsiness dissipated as new emotions swept into her brain. Before she had a chance to analyze these new, wonderful feelings she had flung her arms around Harry's neck and was kissing him with pure, uninhibited need.
She needed him. Did he need her?
Wrapping his arms around her waist, he rolled her onto her back over the length of the couch, fluidly resting his own body atop hers. When his lips returned to hers, she allowed them to part, giving his tongue access to her own. Tentatively, their tongues met and she heard herself moan as Harry's tongue caressed its way through her mouth. Somewhere in the furthest regions of her brain it registered that she had never been kissed in this way before. Her body began responding to the long-subdued desire she felt for Harry, her hips rolled upwards against his. Gasping slightly, he pulled away to look into her eyes…
Something in them must have lit a new flame within him, for he quickly resumed his ravishing of her swollen lips, and now he was grinding his own hips in time with Hermione's. She felt his hardness against her thigh and gripped his back in urgency. As his lips dipped lower and began their exploration of her neck, she knew that she had lost any and all chance of self-control…
Hermione awoke hours later in complete darkness. Opening her eyes groggily she saw that she wasn't in her own room. Sitting up and feeling the slight burning of her lower abdomen, she remembered why. She looked down and saw Harry's bed sheets clinging feebly to her bare breasts. She gripped the sheets higher and turned to see Harry sleeping peacefully beside her with one arm draped over her lap. She wondered how they had managed to make it to Harry's bed without ripping each other's clothes off on the stairs…
She brushed the hair away from his face and curled up in front of him.
"Hi there," he whispered, a smiled played across his lips but his eyes remained closed.
He reached out toward her and pulled her body closer to him. The heat radiating from him was intense and she tucked her head underneath his chin, snuggling against his chest.
"Are you okay?"
"A little sore I guess, nothing I can't handle."
"Thank Merlin for silencing spells, at least. Because you certainly sounded as if you were enjoying yourself."
She giggled and he pressed his lips against her forehead. After a few moments she brought her face up to look at him, "Harry…who was waiting?"
"Nobody," he said, kissing the tip of her nose.
"Nobody? Who wrote those letters?"
"Who do you think?"
"Harry James Potter," she laughed, feigning disappointment.
"Mmm," she murmured, snuggling forward against him.
"I love you."
She pressed a kiss against his chest and whispered, "I love you too, Harry." He sighed against her and drew her body tighter against his, their legs tangling together.
"Mmm hmm," he mumbled, teetering on the edge of sleep.
"Sorry about your eyebrows…"
With his eyes remaining closed, he lifted one eyebrow in a silent 'Oh,' letting his lips form a satisfied smile.